Synopsis: This original romantic detective novel entitled Her First Bow is set in London in the 1920's and features two main characters who are original, but at the same time will ring a bell for many readers. Is there a malevolent mind behind the trail of blood, murder and mayhem that follows them through their adventures and if so, who is it? Will this bring our two heroines together or force them apart? ... The characters were first introduced in the prologue entitled “A Sea Change” which you can find in the Original Stories section of my website at http://web.mac.com/kbowring I hope you enjoy the first two parts of "Her First Bow" – the next thrilling instalment coming soon...
For those of you who like “the hot stuff”, be assured in true romantic fashion we will get there in time, but not in this instalment – just stick along for the ride.
Please send feedback to kbowring at me.com
This story and all the original characters within it are copyright © Kay Bowring 2008-2009 and may not be used without permission.
by Kay Bowring
Chapter One: The Girls
Unbelievable! I’d met the woman of my dreams only to have her run off to work on other projects. Here I was in this dark city, London, having met her on the crossing on the Aquitania and discovered she was Sherlock Holmes daughter. It seemed like a marriage made in heaven, but pinning down Miss Elena Adler Norton was proving difficult. I’d seen her only once or twice. Maybe, I’d misread her during our time in the Aquitania’s lounge. Clearly, I needed to find a way to spend more time with her. I had a few plans about how I was going to do this.
In the meantime, I got to know my birth father, Dr. John Watson and by extension his friend Sherlock Holmes. My birth father and I had decided that I would call Dr. Watson “Dad”, not ‘Papa’ as I had Henri Roussel.
Sometimes, I speculated on Papa Henri’s intentions in leaving me his vast fortune, but I’d decided that marriage to Claude wasn’t part of his plan. He’d supported my tennis career, taught me how to be an independent woman and made me and my brother see the responsibilities of money. No, I thought he wanted something more. He knew he could trust me to care for Mama and the house in Westmount which I missed, even in the great city of London. Yet, a yearning in my soul had set me on this path and I would follow it through.
I learned a lot about London when viewing the sights with Dad. I also spent some time with an estate agent from Chelsea trying to find a new home for the new detective agency in the more fashionable parts of London such as the Strand, Belgravia or South Kensington. I’d viewed some possibilities in a few of the four-story brick buildings of South Kensington where there were a number of Victorian family hotels that would require some updating and could be acquired cheaply. However, without Elena’s agreement I could not do anything because she was to be my partner in this venture.
Dad was keen on buying in Bloomsbury, which was closer to the city, cheaper and had easy access to the British Museum. Of course, he didn’t know the real reason I wanted this building. I wanted a new look that would impress not only wealthy clients but also a middle-class clientele. Our agency would be different from that housed at Holmes’s old offices on Baker Street. After all, Elena and I, at least as I saw it, were going go toe-to-toe with the new Pinkerton’s Detective Agency. They were getting a great deal of the custom because they were big American men with large guns. We, however, could go to a lot of places where they were not welcome and that would be our selling point. I wanted my choice of premises to demonstrate to Elena that I was serious about all this.
At Madame Tussaud’s on Marylebone, Dad had taken me to meet one of the founder’s grandsons who’d allowed me to touch the inside of the death masks of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI that his grandmother had made of them immediately after their encounter with the guillotine. Joseph Randall Tussaud, a man with Edwardian-style whiskers and a striped silk waistcoat – a character worthy of Dickens with the personality of a sideshow barker, had told me while rolling his great brown eyes, of his grandmother’s great misery at touching the trunk-less heads of the great monarchs after knowing them so well in life. He sobbed as I pressed a gold guinea into his lace handkerchief. Then, he promptly cheered up and showed me some of the chemicals they had once used in making the death masks for rogues such as Crippen, the first man caught with the use of fingerprints – Holmes’s own discovery, even though he’d kept that fact modestly out of the papers.
Dad was so upset by the diorama of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls that we were forced to adjourn to the Savoy Grill with its comforting green banquettes and large trolleys of roasted meat. After some food he seemed to be calmer. Rolling a cigarette, he sized me up. “You’re nothing like Beryl. That discussion on embalming fluids and wax preparations would have made her faint. Of course, your mother Constance was, as the Americans say, a tougher cookie than I suspected. I would never have believed she would have demanded a divorce and run off with that wild man, Henri Roussel.”
I doubted the first part of this statement since my half-sister, who I was going to meet in four days from now in Cornwall, was a qualified chemist. She had worked in Dad’s surgery in London as a child. She was a qualified chemist in St. Ives in Cornwall now as well as Dad’s assistant and was doubtless tougher than her father realized. Papa Henri would have soon had had the truth of the matter, but I had discovered my new father had a softer, Victorian concept of ladies and their tender sensibilities. I decided to take the high road and not talk about my mother; she was quite capable of talking for herself when she turned up, as she inevitably would.
“Could we please have a decanter of the 30 year old Talisker and two glasses?” I motioned to a passing waiter.
The waiter’s light brown eyebrows shot up and he gave my father a meaningful glance. I sighed; the Savoy Grill was truly masculine territory. He shrugged his shoulders and made ‘a hurry up’ gesture back at the dubious waiter.
“Henri certainly raised you like a boy,” he continued, “You’re just like Elena, Sherlock’s daughter.”
“Speaking of which,” I said, “is she coming to Cornwall?”
He smiled sweetly; I could see what mother had once seen in him. “Yes, yes, Elena is unpredictable up to a point, but she will be coming along. I still think your plan of driving down in the new car is most irregular, but she was keen as mustard according to Holmes. Still, who will protect you on the road?”
As we waiter for the decanter, I noticed the now familiar figure of Holmes, with his hawk profile and lupine approach. He often joined us in the later afternoon from the British Museum where he would have begun work in the mid-morning. He’d heard the end of our conversation.
“It is a lengthy journey down the Portsmouth Road toward Cornwall,” he gave me a crocodilian smile, “How indeed? Even today, this road has,” he breathed, “an unsavoury reputation.”
“Gentlemen, allow me to reassure you.” I placed my hand in the pocket of my black woollen outer coat. The bottomless pocket allowed me access to the pocket of my brown knit dress. There, with the flip of button, I reached into the specially constructed leather holster underneath my chemise and above my silk stockings. No one would have known it was there, so well constructed was the disguise. I had a similar shoulder holster for wearing underneath a couple of my other coats as well. I placed the Browning HP on the table. The men leaned forward gazing at the gun as thought they’d never seen a firearm before.
“It just came the other day from France. It’s a prototype; my father funded Browning in the design of this gun. It carries 13 rounds with one in the chamber and can kill at 150 feet. And the next version will only get better.”
Sherlock Holmes’s full attention was on the weapon. “You had a special leather strap cradle designed to wear this on your thigh. You are full of surprises, dear girl. You should have been with Elena and me in France during the Great War when I was forced to use beekeeping as a cover while Watson here was busy in St. Ives. Elena will be pleased.”
“That,” I said, “is hard to tell.”
“Indeed, indeed my daughter can be, how do you young put it ‘a cool customer’. But she will appreciate your attention to detail.” He grinned. Then he picked up the 9 mm as though it was a delicate object, “And you’ve worn and fired this item?”
“Papa was involved with a number of gun manufacturers. This one, as I say, is the first of its kind. It’s probably four years from production. He trained me in the use of firearms, including handguns, when we were hunting in the bush together during the war. He liked to get away; my brother Jean Michel was at the front so Papa and I used to go into some isolated places in Northern Quebec and Northern Ontario. I was usually dressed as a boy.” I grinned, “But I’m afraid my face and hair will brook no illusions on that score. Papa wanted me to be well protected. Some of the men up there, are, shall we say enthusiastic? Even, my cousin Claude was on the front in Belgium with the Vingt-Douze. So, I had to help Papa and L’oncle Aramis with every aspect of the family business.”
“Boots.” Holmes affirmed.
“Boots, as you say! Good boots, though many are buried deep in Belgian and French soil.” My voice quavered. “My second cousin Claude handles the daily business at home right now.”
Holmes patted my hand gently, “Miss Roussel you need not worry on that account, no soldier was buried with Roussel boots unless it was, and I hope you take my meaning, strictly necessary. They outwore their competitors’ boots! You need not feel ashamed of coming from boot money; they wear, as the advertisements say, like very good boots. But how did your mother take these excursions into the bush?”
If I looked surprised by the question, I was. “Mama understood completely. It was Papa’s wish that I accompany him into the bush; I can speak Cree and enjoyed my time up there with the native people. Papa made his first start-up money working the trap lines in Northern Quebec and Ontario. My older brother Jean Michel was half Cree; his mother Maria died in 1882 of tuberculosis when he was still a baby. I thought, until recently, that I was Papa’s only daughter. It was a shock to find out that this wasn’t the truth but the will specified that I should be told. My brother, like so many of the men of this sad generation, was highly accomplished. He was an excellent horseman, a crack shot and he planned to be a doctor.”
“Ah, he did not intend to enter the business.”
“Well,” I explained, “he would always have had shares in the company although my cousin Claude would run it. Claude is a born businessman.”
“And how,” my father queried, “does Constance take your wide ranging interests? I assume the house in upper Westmount and its belongings are your mother’s?” A weary tone crept into his voice, “and remembering Constance as I do, she must desire your marriage very much. Is she coming here to London to present you to society? Your money will open many doors. In other words, dearest, will Connie be upset if she finds out that you are keeping company with Holmes, myself and Elena?” The gravitas in their manner suggested strongly that the old dears were alarmed by the possibility of my flame-haired mother descending on them like some harpy of retribution. I almost laughed, but knowing my mother as I did, I did not discount their worries.
“It is Mummy’s greatest wish that I marry my cousin Claude.”
Dad pursued his theme, “And Claude?”
“Claude is very fond of me and has asked me to marry him.”
“And you?” Holmes demanded.
“I love Claude as a brother. I will never marry him. He knows this.”
“Quite,” he noted. “But he has not given up hope.”
I enunciated, “Mr. Holmes, the house in Westmount and its belongings are mine as are three quarters of the stock in Roussel and Brothers. Mother will continue to live in the house, well provided for by my father’s will until the day of her death. As the major beneficiary of my late father’s will, I intend to pursue philanthropic ventures related to the betterment of my sex and assistance to the poor. This year, alone, I have funded the work necessary for a new Cree/English primer and a new, and hopefully, better school in St. Augustine on the Ontario/Quebec border. This small school was one Jean Michel’s wishes as was the desire that we should use our money for good.”
“A young woman with your looks, so chic and beautiful,” Holmes commented. “Some would find it sad that you are not more interested society and marriage. Of course, your ideas are most laudable. But you are young.”
I sighed. “None of us is the same now, Mr. Holmes. My life must justify those thousands of lives that were lost in France and Belgium.” At this point I changed the subject, “It is my understanding that there is quite a society of independent writers and young adventurous women in Paris. Dolly Wilde, Oscar’s niece lives there. She is, I have heard, an interesting hostess.”
My father choked, “Good heavens Mariah, that tragic man and his life. He brought ruin to his family and only a few of his friends dared stand by him before his death. I think you should be careful before getting mixed up with that crowd. We all knew or suspected that Oscar was, well different – but society is very cruel to those who follow his path and I want you to be cautious whatever your personal feelings.”
Holmes seemed to disagree and broke into the discussion. “Yes, it was an unparalleled social tragedy. Oscar’s sad fate makes us consider the value of discretion. He drew out that last word firmly before continuing, “The world and its women are changing. They can vote now, you know. However, as you well know Watson, Elena is quite familiar with Miss Wilde. She runs in a cultured circle in Paris. As you may not know, Mariah, Elena was an ardent suffragette before the war. In which pursuit, you may also not know, I firmly supported her, in spite of the inconvenience to myself and the injury to her person.” He shook himself slightly, “Ah well, time stands still for none of us. Our time is past, Watson. So he returned pointedly to the subject of the gun, “I take it you’ve used the gun?” He stared at the Browning.
“On the range. I’ve I winged a man with a pistol who,” I cast my eyes down politely, “bothered me. And once I shot and killed a brown bear. He was stampeding the Cree village I was in and I had no choice. Unfortunate, but his salted carcass fed the village for several weeks. I’m also a dab hand with a shotgun.”
“Well,” Holmes smiled, “She’s clearly your daughter, my dear Watson. Elena wants you to know she’ll meet you in front of Brown’s tomorrow at eleven sharp Mariah.” I drew a deep breath. For one second I thought his clear eyes saw my desire for the desirable, elusive Elena. I longed, no I needed, to have her pin me with the same intense glance she had on the ocean bound liner. “She says she’s sorry about her absence,” he added softly, “but she’s been busy with a problem of some deep nature.”
I was up early the next morning to make a dawn pickup. I was still raving about my new toy when Elena met me at eleven fifteen at the front door. I could hardly fail to notice the tall sylph-like silhouette of my friend. From the bottom of her navy Mary Jane shoes with the silver buckle to top of her elegant hat with the wide vertical front and the elegant feather, she was the embodiment of fashion. Underneath her unbuttoned navy coat, she wore a dress in striped blue and white silk with a V yoke neck. The stripes were artfully arranged so that while they ran straight down the dropped waist dress skirt, they ran horizontally in bands around the bottom. With her navy coat, she was the picture of elegance. Her usually wild locks were tamed into smoothness around her face, and came together in a large bun with some frenzied curls peaking out around her face.
For a moment, I felt bashful about my green wool crepe Chanel suit with the three quarter length coat and the simple fitted skirt over the white and pink pin-striped blouse and my black, wide brimmed picture hat. Could I possibly appear as elegant as Elena? My silver blonde hair was short with a thick bang, but didn’t feel that I quite had the 1920’s style. I’d even had to wear a designer variation of the Symington Side lacer to obtain the desired flat-chested look, although I wasn’t that large. I just couldn’t emulate Elena’s fashionable boyishishness. I covered these feelings of inadequacy immediately by turning to my new automobile.
“She's beautiful, look at her golden skin.” I cried, “It's unbelievable! Feel that satin! Unbelievable! Such steady handling, I can hardly wait to feel her purr underneath me. The minute I saw the photos of these beauties in Le Devoir, I knew this was what I wanted.” I ran my hands along the beautifully contoured gold hood and down the brown toned side panels. All the way back to the hotel, I had tried not to stare at the gorgeous customized wood inner dashboard panelling. In the narrow London streets and lanes, the new vehicle was wonderfully responsive, which also meant I had to keep my mind on what I was doing.
Unfortunately, at the present moment, I seemed to be the only one who was moved by my new machine. I thought sadly of Papa Henri or my brother Jean Michel who would have appreciated this new purchase. Ah well, I would make the best of it for both their sakes.
My companion was slightly impatient. “You’re right, Mariah it is beautiful. But the girls are expecting us for lunch in Soho at Les Villageois. Is this the surprise you were talking about earlier? What makes it so remarkable?” There was a faint, teasing overtone to her voice although I sensed a great weariness in her manner. Perhaps, Christmas in St. Ives was coming just in time to give her a break.
There was a slightly imperious tilt to her dark head. For a moment I could see traces of her mother Irene Adler on the boards where she was the reigning Queen of the Theatre in San Francisco. She gestured at my new mechanical friend that had taken over a month to be completed and shipped from the factory in France where it had been assembled to my custom specifications.
I shook my head. “I don't believe it! Do you realize that this car is the newest innovation on four wheels? It has an overhead cam shaft, an 8 litre engine and power assisted breaks. This is a veritable goddess among cars. This automobile can get us where we want to go faster with greater agility than any other vehicle.”
Blue eyes crinkled mischievously as she remembered details of an event she’d probably read about while she was still in the United States. “Hmm, I'd heard that a Duesenberg beat the Hispano Suiza in speed trials in Wichita, Kansas in September.” Her voice conveyed a sense of bland innocence.
Hah, I’d caught her! She remembered far too much detail for such affected disinterest. “Really, well you are paying attention after all, Miss Adler Norton! And here I thought an automobile was just a method of transportation to you, no better than a horse and cart when it came down to it.”
“Not at all! I've studied the combustion engine in all its forms quite thoroughly. It may interest you to know I drove an ambulance in Normandy for a while during the Great War. But they are just not as interesting as lunch right now.” She picked a piece of lint from her immaculately tailored coat and looked at her patent leather shoes with their fashionable wedged heels. “As a matter of interest, however, it is notable that the Hispano-Suiza is more manoeuvrable than the other car. And manoeuvrability is crucial, as the Spanish Armada learned to their great sorrow. So, Mariah you’ve done well. Well, sweetie, can we go now? I'm starving please." She clapped her navy gloved hands slightly, begging with entrancing pout.
I thought about the gloves. While we were outside the hotel, she’d been fiddling with her gloves and I’d seen distinct cuts on her left hand. If they were probably from an experiment that she'd been working on for the last couple of weeks, I wondered whether I should ask.
“And what has kept you so busy?” I asked.
“Well, I’ve been conducting a series of experiments on eyeglasses, to see how the resulting discomfort would affect the wearer. You may have noticed the cuts. I was experimenting with grinding lenses. Glass can be tricky.”
“And what did you get?”
“A series of horrible migraines.”
“How awful, but what was the purpose of this experiment?”
She tilted her head to one side. “I’d read about a case of a man in Lorraine, France who had killed himself, the only thing mentioned was a series of headaches that had been apparently being driving him mad. He apparently was experiencing vision problems. His wife got married very quickly after his death. And I wondered if it was possible to drive someone, in a fragile state, to kill themselves by changing their spectacle lenses just enough to drive them mad with pain. I just sent my results to Lestrade Junior, who was communicating them to the Surete.”
“It – if my experiments are anything to go by – is more than possible to make someone with a fragile mind and other problems experience serious difficulties. I thought, however, that there would need to be a malevolent and informed agency behind the changing of the lenses.” She smiled, “For days, my head felt like it was going to explode. Today is the first day I’ve felt better especially now that you’re here.” She grinned. “Have you thought about where we are going to break our journey?”
“I thought somewhere around Wiltshire. You know, we must be prepared for the usual tire blow outs and road conditions that will greet us along the way,” I mentioned, “You look a little pale. I hope you’re up to the journey. I’ve been looking forward to it for some time.”
She smiled gently, “Even with the tire blow outs, it will be heaven to be in the open air – just like being in France again except with you and nobody chasing us. What could be more fun? I did drive an ambulance for awhile and can,” she gave me a mischievous grin, “find my way around a wrench if need be, my Northern friend. I think we’ll be making excellent time if we make it to Salisbury. Good plan.”
“Well, I was going to say that I can face these conditions because they can’t be worse than the roads in the Laurentians on the way to Lac Brule. I’m ready.”
“Shall we go then?” Elena murmured.
“Right, there we are.” I opened the door to usher her in. She made much of getting herself arranging herself perfectly.
“Are you fully packed?” She asked.
“Yes,” I explained, “Dad’s taken all the heavier luggage down to Cornwall in his larger vehicle, and the rest stays in the rooms in Mayfair. Brown’s is, for the present time, my home away from home until I find a place.”
“A place?” She inquired meeting my eyes.
“Our place,” I stated expanding, “the place where we will work in the near future. I thought Kensington perhaps, considering the nature of our clientele? What do you think?”
“Our clientele? I want to make sure, Mariah, that you’re happy with this arrangement. I hope you feel, after you meet my friends, that you still want to know me,” she said.
“Perhaps Elena, you will find that the tennis world is more varied than you realize. I’m used to people from many worlds,” I assured her.
“I hope so,” she said.
I pulled out the choke, pressed the starter pedal and headed toward Bond Street. Eventually, I found myself on Oxford Street heading east toward Wardour where the our destination lay. I stopped the car outside the restaurant on the narrow street, and parked with the wheels well up onto the curb. My companion raised an eyebrow at me.
“Well, I want to leave enough room for the traffic to pass.” I indicated the street with my hand. “It’s narrow and this is a new car.”
She teased, “Are you afraid someone will bash your new toy?”
“Yes, I do care if someone bashes my toy, as you call it.”
“Well, I guess it was love at first sight.” She sighed, and then laughed. The car was clearly not a preoccupation that I was going to share, at least not right away.
“I’m just being careful.” I defended my spot. And I had noticed other vehicles on the road, parked in a similar fashion. “In Montreal, St. Catherine’s Street is wide enough to have a line of parked cars on either side with plenty of room to spare.”
“And in New York, Park Avenue is the same,” she grinned back at me. We were as one again.
Just as I turned to follow her into the restaurant, a fast imperial blue car with gold trim cut through the road on the far side. It was gone before I could note the make or see the driver.
Elena’s eyes narrowed and her nostrils flared, “Now, that was a Duesenberg.” She noted. “Yes, Mariah you did very well with the Hispano-Suiza, did you see that slight lack of control in the turn?”
She turned and I followed her into the restaurant which was cheerful and chic in an artistic kind of way. Dad had been worried by Elena’s choice of lunchtime venue and slightly concerned about my meeting’ the girls.’ However, he seemed to come around rather grumpily and accede that Elena’s friends were as he called them ‘singular’ and ‘good fun’. Now, I got to see what he had meant.
‘The girls’ had taken a large table at the back of the room where a cloud of smoke hung in the air. I immediately saw why we had come here instead of the more conservative Savoy Grill favoured by Dad. As I approached the table, I noticed that one of the women was wearing a man’s suit and sported short slicked-back hair. Two of her other friends were wearing tweed jackets and jaunty wide skirts that announced that they were ‘new women’ or feminists. One had freckles and pale red hair and gold-rimmed glasses. A couple of others seemed to be more conventionally dressed in knit dresses, beads and jackets – but I had been told in advance that one of these women was Lisette Banks, a well known oil painter. And I’d seen her picture in a small art gallery I’d visited one day with Elena. Yes, I thought this group would certainly have gotten up the nose of the businessmen at Savoy Grill. I wondered if one of the famous trolleys of roasted meat would have self immolated at the mere appearance of Elena’s friends.
Elena grinned as she approached the table. “I say, Elena laying it on a bit thick what?” The woman in the man’s suit said in a lazy tone.
“Do you think so, Joss?” Elena twirled around showing off the beautifully tailored American suit, “I thought it made a significant statement for my clients. After all, some of us have to work. This is my friend, Mariah Roussel. Mariah, Vicountess Jocelyn Hamilton. We met at Vassar before the war.”
“Such a bore, university.” Lady Joss knit her heavy eyebrows, “Especially when one can’t get a real degree, even in one’s own country.” She stood up and extended her hand, “You must be the bootmaker’s heiress. Such a lot of money in leather, isn’t there? This is my special friend, Lisette Banks.” She indicated the woman beside her in a stylish, but conventional green knit suit. “Lisette is an oil painter, but in spite of her training and acceptance into the French academy, here in London all people want to see is pictures of women and children because she’s a woman painter. What do you think of that, Miss Roussel?”
She gave me a challenging glance that I recognized well from my school days. It was the one that preceded my flattening the person who tried it on by using learning and hard-learned social graces. The one thing I could say about mother is that she’d prepared me well to deal with the Lady Joss’s of this life.
I smiled sweetly. “I’m sorry Lady Joss, I’m afraid I’m just a little convent girl from Vieux Quebec and art really isn’t my forte. Still, some of the pieces I saw at the recent exhibition I went to with Elena reminded me of Gauguin or perhaps Matisse.”
“You went to see my exhibition,” Lisette looked pleased.
“Yes, two weeks ago I believe. I thought that your use of form is very similar to Matisse whereas the colours reminded me of Gauguin. In Canada, I believe the Group of Seven is trying to do something very similar using the Canadian landscape. You probably wouldn’t know their work – Tom Thompson, A.Y. Jackson, MacDonald – there has been a great deal of discussion about their work back home.”
“Yes,” Lady Joss noted, “We are all very interested in what is going on abroad in America.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Elena start to speak but I’d already beat her to the punch, “Canada is very different from the United States. In fact, they are quite separate countries.”
“Surely,” Lady Joss commented, “there are more similarities. Prohibition, for example, so barbaric and backward. You must have it too.”
“Well...” I warmed to my explanation, “It was repealed in Quebec after two months.”
“Ah,” Lisette’s eyes narrowed to considering slits. I noticed she was wearing a long string of real pearls and a matching leaf and gold brooch with several large diamonds and seed pearls. “Yes, Quebec, all those paintings of Krieghoff’s jolly habitants. Such fun, lovely sleighs and snow rides.”
“Quite,” I said coolly, “it’s how I spend my winter nights by the fires in those quaint country inns. And don’t forget how my milkman looks just like someone out of a Paul Kane painting.”
Her bright intelligent eyes took me in, “Paul Kane? You mean the Indian in full headdress. She’s having us on, girls.” She gave me a chummy smile; I’d have no further trouble there. “It was too awful of you, Joss, to mention the boot money, so vulgar. I’m actually from good old merchant stock myself. It’s only Joss and the Hons that are real blue-bloods. Well, let’s shake on it and say no more.” She extended her hand and gave her partner a ‘behave yourself’ look.
“Well, you did rather ask for it,” I suggested.
“Canadians are very sensitive.” Elena warned her friends.
“But Americans aren’t,” I raised an eyebrow at her, “I’m not even going there. How do you feel about Edgar Wallace?”
“Oh that dreadful little man, never has anyone written more rubbish about detectives than him!”
“You see Americans have their own sensitivities,” I commented.
“Of course, you’re right,” Sidney commented, “we all have them, even Joss here.”
“Oh girls, I’m the most international of people. Living in Paris, New York and London has given me a wider view.”
“And you’re the first to defend that pile of rocks you call home,” Lisette pointed out.
“And you, my love, are always right.” Joss pinched Lisette’s cheek affectionately, “So I guess we’re all products of our own nations, can’t help it.”
Elena spied the back of the room searching for the waiter, “Oh dear, do you suppose I could get a gin and tonic? Look, Sidney’s already got one.”
“Elena, if you wanted service we should have just gone downstairs at Browns.” One of the women in purple plaid skirts with a matching houndstooth jacket said cheerfully. “You never get service here in Soho, unless you wait and wait.”
“Of course, you’re right Violet, I’m just hopeful.” Elena waved her hand vigorously and a waiter came sneaking up to the table, smelling strongly of tobacco.
“I’d like a gin and tonic and breadsticks,” Elena asked, adding the second item quickly. The waiter disappeared before anyone could ask anything further of him. She then turned to Sidney who was beside her. “Please,” she begged.
“Those are ours,” Sidney pointed out.
“I’ll share mine as soon as they arrive.” The waiter slide in with the gin and tonic and breadsticks and seemed to evaporate faster than a cloud. “Ah, here it is, and damn. He’s gone.” Elena shook her head.
“Considering your impatience with life’s ordinary matters, it’s amazing how you can sit for days in one of Sherlock’s old bolt holes.” Lady Joss laughed. She came over and slapped me on the back, “Convent girl, eh? Well, I guess you’re all right if Elena says so.” It was fortunate that I’d had a lot of practice keeping upright when pushed because she was tall and strong and her thump was a heavy as a lumberjack’s. “What kind of rifles did you buy? We go and shoot at the ancestral pile all the time. Elena just wraps herself in a fur coat and smokes, cussing at us all. But it’s good fun. What’s the biggest thing you’ve taken down?”
I grinned back Joss, finding some common ground with the aristocrat. “Well, I treated myself to a pair of twin Watson 12 bores with sidelock ejectors with beautiful figured work on the butt. I’ve taken down deer and a big brown bear in Northern Ontario with Papa’s Evans.” I shook my head, remembering, “Actually, I was really sad to do that but he came out of the bush suddenly and charged me. Nothing I could do about it, actually. But none of him went to waste, the locals were more than happy to use his skin and meat.”
“You mean Indians, real Indians?” The woman with the pale red hair broke in a breathless voice. “Living the traditional way like in the pictures?”
“I’m sorry you’re...?”
“Sylvia Greenway, I’m a medico – a doctor. I just wondered how they managed to live on in the traditional way?”
“Well, where I was with Papa they were mostly Northern Cree. And as for managing, it’s pretty hard to get by the traditional way. The children are sent to residential schools where they have to speak English and can’t speak their native tongue and the conditions are pretty harsh.”
“But, surely,” Sylvia began, “I mean, the missionaries mean well. They need to live in our world – speak English, become civilized. And you can’t live on the land anymore, you need to change your ways.”
With a sudden clarity of vision, I remembered Papa and the Northern Cree guides with whom he was so comfortable. When he spoke their language fluently, their faces would light up like candles. I remembered how in these early days, when I was barely ten, even when I could hear the loud barking of the large dogs and the slight whispers of the people as they watched the young girl who accompanied her brother and father. My silvery blonde hair had garnered a lot of attention, even though it was well covered by a red plaid hat, and I wasn’t dressed like a girl. I was mindful of Papa’s words to keep my head, not to stare or look others in the eye, and to listen carefully to the words of the elders. For a moment, I lost myself in my memories, and then jerked myself back into the present with a start.
“Oh, I’m sorry Sylvia, you were talking about civilization. Well, the conditions are bad in those schools – tuberculosis spreads like wildfire, and I’m sorry to say they’re not happy.”
“But things will get better?” I did not have the heart to explain it to her. Her blue eyes appeared so gentle and sincere through her gold frames.
“Of course, they will,” I agreed, hastily dropping the subject.
“Yes, well, that’s our plucky Sylvia,” Joss boasted, “Got her medical education in Edinburgh and they tried to stop her, but she persisted.”
I gave her a look of deeper respect. Edinburgh’s medical school was known for its unwelcoming attitude toward women. But Joss was chatting on, “The other two girls over there, she indicated the women in the matching plaids in greens and violets, are the Hons – Violet Buckles and Sidney Marchmont. They run a gallery not far from here. They were both ambulance drivers in France during the war. Violet’s family has an ancestral pile down in Dorset, don’t you know, but the place is simply falling to bits. And of course, that gorgeous creature with the dark hair in the beige knit is Georgie Cruikshank, the journalist.”
“Really, what do you write about?” I asked.
“Women’s issues now: women pilots, new women’s profession, our strides forward...that kind of thing.” Georgie smiled and crumbled her bread shyly.
“I think we should order now that we’re all here – Violet dear,” Georgie barked out at the woman in purple plaid, you should remove your tie from the butter dear.”
Violet started and withdrew her tie. The conversation was very jolly; many of the women had served like Lady Joss during the war in France. So, they were slightly older than me.
Finally, Elena, with a certain directness, went out to the kitchen and searched out the waiter. Duck l’Orange was the entree of the day. Remarkably, it was excellent, despite the tardiness of the service. Elena watched from the sidelines as Lady Joss invited both of us up to Woolburne Lodge in the East Midlands sometime after New Year for a large shooting party.
At three thirty, we strolled out of the restaurant and then swung by the hotel with the car. Elena was quiet, giving me time to get everything strapped down and loaded with the help of the staff.
As we drove through the city streets toward the Portsmouth Road, she suddenly asked, “So what did you think?”
“You mean, of the girls? Of Lady Joss and Sylvia and the others?”
“Yes,” she turned to me, “I know that Joss mentioned the boots, which was really bad of her, but you seemed to handle it all right.”
“My father taught me that people who cared about the boots weren’t worth knowing.”
I relaxed slightly, “Yes, I liked them. Very much. And I liked Joss in spite of the boots because I knew she didn’t really care. I’ve met lots of women just like them on the tennis courts, you know.”
“You have? I mean, I thought on the ship that we were – I mean – that you and I were connecting but I didn’t realize who you were, John Watson’s daughter, for heaven’s sake. Still, I didn’t consider that you might have known women like Joss and the others before. So I thought.” She fell silent.
“You thought I wouldn’t like you anymore, that I was like those people before the war who came after Wilde. Let me tell you that people like Joss exist everywhere, even in Northern Quebec among the Cree. Some of the strangest people I’ve ever met, I’ve met in the bush with Papa. Eccentrics of all kinds, people who make the Hons and Joss look quite ordinary. It’s not the package Elena, it’s the heart.”
“You are remarkable!” Her hand suddenly squeezed mine slightly and withdrew, “But knowing me can be dangerous to your health.”
Conversation halted as driving got tricky, and we finally turned east toward Wiltshire. I found the road much in the condition I expected, and two tire changes were necessary before we rolled into a small hotel in Salisbury for the night. However, between Elena’s help and our spirited conversation, the changes were swift.
Later over dinner, I asked her. “Do you think the girls liked me?”
“Joss doesn’t invite just anyone to her country pile for shooting in the New Year, Mariah. You passed with honours.”
I felt slightly embarrassed, “I’ve been looking for a place in South Kensington. For us.” I confessed.
“I’ve suspected this much from Papa’s conversation. Uncle John likes to talk.” Her voice was teasing again, but gentle. “The place in South Kensington you’ve been looking at, the way the girls liked you, and the way they were with you. Everything’s perfect. You are perfect but - ” She stopped suddenly, searching for the words, but I spoke first.
“I thought on the ship that we would connect.” I said.
Her eyes showed concern. “No, it’s not that. You are so young Mariah and the world is truly your oyster because of your fortune. I want you to have the freedom this gives. And if things go further, I want you to be quite sure.”
“I see,” I felt stiff and bereft. “Don’t you think I know my own mind?”
“I don’t know. I want you to be sure, quite sure, if anything happens between us. I wouldn’t flirt and forget Uncle John’s daughter, Mariah. I couldn’t. You must see this! We will always be friends, good friends – even probably best friends. And that is not worth endangering for anything. Do you understand?”
“I understand,” I said. I felt slightly confused, as if something so close in reach had been pulled away from me. “You think because I’m young I don’t know what I want, but I do and I’m not going to change.”
“Please Mariah, give this the time that it needs!” She leaned forward and touched my jacketed arm and held it. Through the cloth, I felt a heated warmth, the trace of electric energy between us. Her icy blue depths penetrated and melted my inner core slightly. There was a sadness in her demeanour, a sadness and the flinty rock of hope as well. I’d have to wait for more than this.
Suddenly, those slightly softening blue eyes regained their focus as she looked behind me at someone leaving the room. She stood up slightly and moved in closer to my ear.
“Did you see that woman in the gray suit behind you, the one with the washed out brown hair? As she got closer, I could’ve sworn that she was the same woman in the blue Duesenberg we had seen on the road outside the restaurant in London.” She whispered.
“Really? How strange!”
“Did you see anyone pass us on the road?” her eyes were sharp.
“No,” I shook my head, “several people passed us on the road and as you might recall we were both busy changing tires, a pursuit I could abridged if I’d brought a chauffeur. But we decided to forgo that for the pleasure of our own company.”
She smiled suddenly, “And the simply pleasure of being alone with you. I just had one of those moments, the strangest sensation.”
“Maybe, you’re tired.” I suggested.
“Probably,” she agreed.
“Well, we need to make an early start,” I concluded, beginning to gather my wraps and purse.
She stopped me with a swift, concerned glance. “Please be careful, little one and watch your door.” Then she stroked my cheek for a brief moment. A shiver ran through me; then she drew back suddenly.
We made our way to our rooms together and I noticed she checked the locks. In the morning, she was bright and ready to travel again. I noticed that she was wary on the road and watched each passer-by with penetration as though daring them to come near.
After a long drive, we reached the road into St. Ives just before six. High cliffs ran directly into the small, fishing town. I could see the white lighthouse beacon in the harbour, the rolling harsh gray seas of December and the newish brick Victorian houses on The Terrace that faced the harbour on the road above the tiny sleeping town. In one of these, my father had established his surgery. Holmes was there too, for the duration of the holiday. We had made it on the first leg of the longest journey of my life, the journey that I hoped would lead me to Elena.
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